Sam Cooke, Still Bringing It On Home

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Tomorrow, January 22, would have been R&B singer Sam Cooke's 80th birthday. No doubt he would be celebrating with a massive, star-drenched party with plenty of music and fanfare, and Beyonce Knowles sitting on his lap if he was lucky and Jay-Z was cool with it.

Cooke died on December 11, 1964, under circumstances that almost define shady: A hooker, $3,000 missing and a seedy $3/night motel with Cooke lying dead in his room, shot in the chest wearing only a sport coat and shoes.

Reports are conflicting, with some saying that he was an unlucky john, while others claim he was targeted by a con artist - or even worse, he had tried to rape the woman in the room with him. He was shot by the manager of the motel in what was ruled as self-defense.

Cooke, who added the "e" to his name to sound classier, has only gotten more popular as time has passed, as each generation of romantics discovers songs like "Bring It On Home To Me" and "Cupid," and dozens of other swooners that make the human heart feel all gooey. Not bad for a former gospel singer.

But gospel is about blind, crazy love, so it's not that far off from "You Send Me."

You have to check out Cooke's live recordings to see how dynamic he could be in front of an audience. He changed the arrangements quite a bit, infusing rock stomp into some songs, or making them bluesier when he could.

Cooke's legacy lives on in so many artists, most notably Rod Stewart, who covers him religiously and learned most of his vocal phrasing from Cooke records. Cooke very much helped invent the sound of what soul would be after he died.

It was all in his smooth, buttery vocals. Even today, you can hear Cooke in artists like Bruno Mars and Eli "Paperboy" Reed. The Decemberists' Colin Meloy did a quick 2008 EP of Cooke songs that brought him to an indie audience.

In late 2008, Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," long a popular civil-rights anthem, was reignited by the media machinery behind President Barack Obama to soundtrack his historic presidential campaign and election.

Here's to Mr. Cooke, whose voice has helped people fall in love, deal with falling out of it, and calmed the weary of spirit and heart since he first stepped in front of a microphone. Here are some of our favorite Cooke songs. Turn them up and swoon.

"Touch The Hem Of His Garment" (Sam Cook & The Soul Stirrers):

"That's It, I Quit, I'm Movin' On":

"Twistin' The Night Away":

"Wonderful World":

"(Ain't That) Good News":

"Chain Gang":

"A Change Is Gonna Come":

"You Send Me":

"Bring It On Home To Me":


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